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A Critical Exposition of the Popular ‘Jihád’ – Part 12


By Moulavi Chirágh Ali

There were certain executions of culprits who had perpetrated the crime of high treason against the Moslem Commonwealth. These executions, and certain other cases of murders not grounded on any credible evidences, are narrated by European biographers of Mohammad as assassinations committed through the countenance and connivance which he lent them. They were about five or six in number, and they are styled assassinations from there being no trials of the prisoners by a judge and a jury, nor by any systematic court-martial. The punishment of death was inflicted upon the persons condemned, either from private enmity or for the unpardonable offence of high treason against the State, but it cannot be said, as I will hereafter show, that these so-called cases of assassinations had received the high sanction of Mohammad, or they were brought about at his direct instigation and assent for their commission. The alleged instances are as follows:--

    1. Asma-bint Marwán

     2. Abú Afak.

     3. Káb-ibn Ashraf.

     4. Sofian-ibn Khalid.

     5. Abú Ráfe.

     6. Oseir-ibu Zárim.

     7. The attempted assassination of Abú Sofian.

[Sidenote: 45. Mr. Poole quoted.]

Before reviewing the truth and falsity of evidence in each of these cases, and showing how far the Prophet was privy to them, I will avail myself of a quotation from Mr. Stanley Lane Poole, who has remarked with his usual deep discernment and accurate judgment, in his Introduction to Mr. E.W. Lane's Selections from the Koran:

"The execution of the half-dozen marked Jews is generally called assassination, because a Muslim was sent secretly to kill each of the criminals. The reason is almost too obvious to need explanation. There were no police or law-courts, or even courts-martial, at Medina; some one of the followers of Mohammad must therefore be the executer of the sentence of death, and it was better it should be done quietly, as the executing of a man openly before his clan would have caused a brawl and more bloodshed and retaliation, till the whole city had become mixed up in the quarrel. If secret assassination is the word for such deeds, secret assassination was a necessary part of the internal government of Medina. The men must be killed, and best in that way. In saying this I assume that Mohammad was cognisant of the deed, and that it was not merely a case of private vengeance; but in several instances the evidence that traces these executions to Mohammad's order is either entirely wanting or is too doubtful to claim our credence."[205]

1.--_Asma-bint Marwán._

[Sidenote: 46. Asma-bint Marwán]

"The first victim was a woman," writes Major Osborn, "Asma, daughter of Marwan; she had composed some satirical verses on the Prophet and his followers; and Muhammad, moved to anger, said publicly: 'Who will rid me of this woman?' Omeir, a blind man, but an ardent Moslem, heard the speech, and at dead of night crept into the apartment where Asma lay asleep surrounded by her little ones; he felt about in the darkness till his hand rested on the sleeping woman, and then, the next instance his sword was plunged into her breast."[206]

The story of Asma's murder has been variously related by the Arabian writers, and the testimonies on which it rests are contradictory and conflicting in themselves. Wákidi, Ibn Sád, and Ibn Hishám relate a very strange thing about it, that she was killed by Omeir the _blind_ at the dead of night. A blind person commits murder in a stranger's house during nocturnal quietness, and is not arrested by any one! Doctor Weil writes, that Omeir was a former husband of Asma, and the origin of the murder may be traced to a long-brooding and private malice. Ibn Asákar in his history (vide _Seerat Shámee_) relates that Asma was a fruit-seller; some person of her tribe asked her if she had better fruits. She said 'yes,' and entered her house followed by that man. She stooped down to take something up, the person turned right and left, and seeing that nobody was near, gave a violent blow on her head, and thus dispatched her.

[Sidenote: 47. The story deserves not our belief.]

The historians even relate that Omeir, being offended at the verses composed by Asma, had volunteered himself of his own free-will to kill her.[207] She might have been a sacrifice to envy or hatred by the sword of her assassin, but Mohammad really had no hand in her death. She had made herself an outlaw by deluding the people of Medina to a breach of treaty with the Moslems, whereby the rights and jurisdictions of Jews and Moslems were definitively settled.

Ibn Ishak quietly leaves un narrated any transaction with regard to Asma. Wakidi and Ibn Sád do not affirm that Mohammad, being annoyed at her lampoons, said dejectedly, "Who would rid me of that woman?" On the contrary, Wakidi writes, that Omeir had voluntarily swore to take her life. It is only Ibn Hisham who relates without citing his authority that Mohammad, hearing Asma's verses, declared: "Is there nobody for me (i.e., _to rid me_) from Bint Marwán?" This version of the story has no corroborative proofs from the earliest biographers, and we are not inclined to put any faith in it.[208]

2.--_Abú Afak._

[Sidenote: 48. Abú Afak.]

It has been related that Abú Afak of Bani Amr had enraged the Moslems by fomenting enmity and sedition against their Government, when one Háris was executed for his murdering treacherously his fellow-comrade in the battle of Ohad during the time they were fighting together side by side. A convert from amongst the Bani Amr vowed to slay Abú Afak, and falling unawares upon him killed him with a cruel blow of his sword. From Ibn Ishak we learn that Mohammad had said with reference to Abú Afak, "Who would rid me of this pestilent fellow?"[209] The biographers do not give their authorities whence they derived their information of the words attributed to Mohammad which he is said to have uttered with relation to Abú Afak before his followers; while at the same time it is no fair justice to form a hasty opinion of the fact without a critical examination and well-balancing of evidences of men like Ibn Ishak and others who have forgotten to tell us the original sources of their own assertion. Besides, the words quoted above are not equivalent to a peremptory order, and even granting this last condition, we are not justified in construing them to mean _assassination_. Sir W. Muir writes that, "the Secretary of Wâckidi says distinctly--'Now this was by command of the Prophet.'" (Vol. III, p. 133, _f.n._) But it is a very easy thing for the secretary or other biographers to give an ample play to their fancies, or to fabricate commands, which the Prophet had never given out, on a very slender basis, or on no reasonable basis at all. The tendency of the biographers is always to exonerate the companions of the Prophet at the expense of truth, and to justify their deeds by casting the whole blame upon him.

3.--_Káb, son of Ashraf._

[Sidenote: 49. Káb, son of Ashraf.]

Káb-ibn Ashraf was an influential Jew connected with the tribe of Bani Nazeer. Being very much mortified by the defeat of the Meccans at the battle of Badr, he soon after proceeded to Mecca, where he stirred up the Koreish to avenge themselves on the Moslems of Medina. On his return to the latter place he manifested avowed hostility towards the Moslem Commonwealth. He was a traitor and a turncoat, for he not only violated his allegiance to the Moslems, but preached rebellion among their enemies. Under such circumstances, he deserved execution by the military and international law, and was decapitated at Medina accordingly. The mode of execution was a sudden violence or deception, but Mohammad never fulminated any harsh commands against him either for his assassination or for his murder. He deserved capital punishment for his treachery, which was duly measured out to him in the absence of any legal tribunals for trials of criminals by jury, for in that case any man was authorized to execute the sentence of the law. Even if it be taken for granted that the Prophet had prayed "O Lord, deliver me from the son of Ashraf, in whatsoever manner seemeth good unto thee, because of his open sedition and verses;" or said, "Who can ease me of the son of Ashraf?"[210] This does not amount to a fiat for murder or execution, much less for assassination.

[Sidenote: 50. Mohammad could not have any share in his murder.]

The biographers and narrators of the campaigns of Mohammad generally relate untrustworthy and fabulous details of such events, and are by no means to be relied upon. Mohammad Ibn Ishak, the earliest biographer, whose work exists, does not relate that Mohammad the Prophet ever prayed for, or said to his followers, to be got rid of Káb; whereas the latest biographers and traditionalists give us to understand that the Prophet sanctioned the murder of Káb by his own express orders. "I am far from asserting," says Sir W. Muir, "that every detail in the foregoing narrative, either of instigation by Mahomet or of deception by the assassins, is beyond suspicion. The actors in such scenes were not slow to magnify and embellish their own services at the expense of truth. There may also have been the desire to justify an act of perfidy, at which even the loose morality of the day was startled, by casting the burden of it on the infallible Prophet. But, after allowing all due weight to both of these considerations, enough remains to prove, in this case, the worst features of assassination, and the fact that they were directly countenanced, or rather prompted, by Mahomet himself."[211] There is no substantial proof in this case which tends to establish the instigation Mohammad offered for the murder of Káb. The best traditions for the story of Káb's assassination rest with Jábir-bin Abdullah,[212] and Ibn Abbás through Ikrama.[213]

None of them can be an authority, for they were neither eye-witness, nor they heard the Prophet countenancing or prompting the assassination, nor they allude to their own authorities. Jábir-bin Abdullah was a mere boy at that time. He was not allowed to appear even at the battle of Ohad, which took place after the alleged execution of Káb, on account of his tender age.[214] Ibn Abbás was even younger than Jábir, and besides, was putting up at Mecca at the period in question.[215] Ikrama was a slave of Ibn Abbás, and was notoriously given to the forging of fictitious traditions.[216]

4.--_Sofian-bin Khalid._

[Sidenote: 51. Sofian-bin Khalid]

After the reverse at Medina, in the battle of Ohad, large gatherings were organized in various quarters of Arabia against the Moslems. The Bani Lahyán, and other neighbouring tribes, rallied round the standard of their chief Sofián, the son of Khálid, at Orna with the avowed purpose of taking this occasion by the forelock when the tables were turned at Ohad. "Mahomet, knowing that their movements depended solely upon Sofiân, despatched Abdullah ibn Oneis with instructions to assassinate him."[217] The accredited envoy volunteered himself for the service, which he accomplished by destroying Sofian by surprise. Neither Ibn Ishak, nor Ibn Hisham, nor Ibn Sád have anything to say about 'instructions' for assassination. Abdullah-bin Oneis may have been sent as a spy to reconnoitre the movements of Sofián and his army, or to bring advices concerning him, but it cannot be affirmed that he was tutored by Mohammad to assassinate Sofian, even on the supposition that his mission was to kill the latter.

[Sidenote: 52. Justifications of Sofian's alleged murder.]

Among the Arabs the international law of estates in their hostile relations, and the military law and usage of former times, not forgetting to mention the European international law as late as the last century, maintained the broad principle that "in war everything done against an enemy is lawful that he may be destroyed, though unarmed and defenceless; that fraud or even poison may be employed against him; that a most unlimited right is acquired to his person and property."[218]. Every sort of fraud except perfidy was allowed to be practised towards an enemy in war. "I allow of any kind of deceit," writes Bynkershoek, a writer on international law, the successor of Puffendorf and the predecessor of Wolff and Vattel, "perfidy alone excepted, not because anything is unlawful against an enemy, but because when our faith had been pledged to him, so far as the promise extends, he ceases to be an enemy."[219]

In the case of Sofián there was no perfidy, treachery, or violation of faith, nor was there any permission granted by Mohammad for his assassination. He sent, if it be proved he did (but it is never proved), Abdullah against Sofián who had made every preparation of arms, and who had mustered together several Bedouin tribes to attack Mohammad, to fight and kill him; it was a straightforward course allowed by the usages of the military law. Mohammad had distinctly and expressly interdicted _perfidy, deceit and assassination_. "Do not," said he, charging his commanders and soldiers on the point of marching for a military expedition, "commit perfidy, and do not mutilate, and do not kill a child."[220] He also laid down the golden maxim, "_Belief is the restraint to assassination. No believer should commit assassination_."[221]

5.--_Abú Rafe._

[Sidenote: 53. Abú Rafe.]

Abú Rafe, called also Sallám Ibn Abul Hokeik, was the chief of Bani Nazeer, who had warred with the Moslems at Medina, and had been banished to Khyber. He had taken a prominent part in the assembling of most of the Bedouin tribes at the war of the confederates when they besieged Medina. Subsequently, he had excited Bani Fezara and other Bedouin tribes to carry on their depredations among the Moslems. A band of the latter was dispatched to inflict condign punishment upon him, and he met with his death at their hands. But the account of his execution is full of contradictions and discrepancies. But none of these diverse stories has, that Mohammad commanded the assassination of Abú Rafe, while Ibn Ishak gives no account of him at all. Ibn Hisham has--"That Abú Rafe had brought the confederate army against Mohammad, and some of Khazraj had asked permission to kill him, and Mohammad permitted them."[222] Sir W. Muir narrates that Mohammad "gave them command to make away with Abul Huckeick,"[223] whilst the Secretary of Wákidi, whom he follows, simply says, "He gave command to kill him." "_Making away with a person_" creates an idea of secret murder tantamount to 'assassination,' but such is not the wording of the original. _Sending a party to kill_, or _fight with an enemy_ are synonymous, and permissible by the international or military law, the Arab mode of fighting mostly consisting of single combats.

6.--_Oseir-bin Zárim._ [224]

[Sidenote: 54. Oseir-bin Zárim]

Oseir-Ibn Zarim, the chief of Bani Nazeer, had maintained a hostile animosity against the Moslems of Medina, to war with whom he had enrolled himself in the adverse tribe of Ghatafán. Preparations were briskly made by this tribe to make a havoc of Medina, and Oseir had been made the hero of the enterprise. Hereupon Mohammad delegated the mission of bringing the insurgent to Medina to Abdullah-bin Rawáha and some others, with a promise of making him Governor of Khyber,[225] and treating him with marked distinction, if he yielded to the wishes of the Prophet. Oseir complied, and set out with his followers to Medina. On a camel were mounted Abdullah-bin, Oneis, and Oseir. Hardly they had travelled six miles when Oseir repented of his determination to go to Medina, and stretched forth his hand towards the sword of Abdullah, who leaped from the camel and cut off his leg, Oseir in the meantime wounding Abdullah's head with his camel staff. [226]

Now, whether Oseir was assassinated or murdered perfidiously; whether he meditated treachery, and Abdullah struck him in his self-defence,--whatever might be the case, certainly there is nothing in the narrative of Oseir's death to show that Mohammad had sent him "on a secret errand with a view of getting rid of the Jewish chief" as Sir W. Muir explains.[227] The story is not imparted by earliest writers like Ibn Ishak, and the traditions of a later date are incoherent, one-sided, and imperfect. Notwithstanding these inaccuracies, no account tells us that mandates were issued for fighting with or killing Oseir, much less for his assassination.

7.--_The alleged intended Assassination of Abú Sofian._

[Sidenote: 55. The intended assassination of Abú Sofian]

URL of Part 11:ágh-ali/a-critical-exposition-of-the-popular-‘jihád’—part-11/d/11392